“Illegal, Criminal!!!” -Nyonblee Describes Senate Approval of NRF Diversion

MONROVIA – In the wake of the current hullabaloo over the Government of Liberia alleged misapplication of US$7 million collected from petroleum levy fees collected as National Road Fund support to the National Budget, which the government stated it aptly diverted to pay salaries for government employees, and for which the Liberian senate has now issued a position statement exonerating Finance Minister Tweah of any wrongdoing, Grand Bassa County Senator Nyonblee Kangar-Lawrence is waxing mad, saying the decision by her colleagues to support the action of Finance Minister Samuel Tweah to redirect the funds after the fact, is wrong and may make legislators who approved such an illegal act criminally liable tomorrow.

“We must revisit our actions to take responsibility of this matter by calling on Minister Tweah to give us a complete report on the expenditures and if the reports are proven to be correct, the Ministry must be instructed to replenish the road funds from the Government revenue in the next budget while the consequences of taking such unilateral actions are being considered,” Senator Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence stated unequivocally Wednesday in reaction to the Senate Resolution which cleared the government of any wrong doing with regards to expending the monies from the National Roads Fund to augment salary disbursement to civil servants.

According to Senator Lawrence, about a month ago, the Minister of Finance informed the public that the Legislature had given him verbal authorization to redirect the national road funds to other expenditure categories, for which Senator Lawrence obstinately disagreed to.

“First of all, The Legislature does not give verbal authorization, neither does the President Pro-tempore of the Senate or the Speaker have such authority to do so, as such action when legal, must be taken by majority votes in plenary supported by a resolution signed by the majority.

“Therefore, authorization for the redirection of funds was never given because “verbal authorization” as claimed by the Minister of Finance does not qualify as legal authorization. There is no provision of the National Road Fund Act that grants the authority to the Road Fund Steering Committee or the Minister of Finance and Development Planning to redirect road funds for other purposes other than those provided in the Act; and there is no provision in the PFM Law of 2009 that supersedes the Road Fund Act.

“Please also be informed that acquiescence by some donors for the redirection of funds in the Road Fund does not legalize the process. Such actions must go through an operational process to legalize it – tabling of the request before the Plenary of both Houses and the subsequent signing of an appropriate resolution by a majority of the legislators.  We do not think that even those donors that, in principle, supported the redirection of some of the funds expected the Minister of Finance to flagrantly violate the law by arrogating unto himself the authority and responsibility that resides only in the Legislature,” Senator Lawrence intimated.

She furthered that while in transit Tuesday on her way out of Liberia, she was informed of the vote by the Senate to support the action of the Minister to redirect the funds. “It is clear that approving such transaction after the fact is wrong and may make legislators who approved such an illegal act criminally liable tomorrow. We must revisit our actions to take responsibility of this matter by calling on Minister Tweah to give us a complete report on the expenditures and if the reports are proven to be correct, the Ministry must be instructed to replenish the road funds from the Government revenue in the next budget while the consequences of taking such unilateral actions are being considered,” Senator Lawrence insisted.

“In addition to this, we look forward to further investigation into the road funds collection process including the millions that are outstanding, particularly the status of the receivables that the General Auditing Commission (GAC) was unable to confirm during their audit of the Road Fund. While the illegal redirection of funds is of serious and urgent concern, the Liberian Legislature must also be seized of the less than transparent process by which road maintenance contracts are awarded under the Road Fund.  We deserve a complete report that will delineate the procurement process followed for each contract awarded, the value of money achieved during the execution of the contract, and the legal status of the contractors including their beneficial owners,” the vocal Grand Bassa County lawmaker stated.

Senator Lawrence’s statement on her colleagues’ position comes in the wake of a June 21, 2022 Resolution from the Liberian Senate entitled: “Conclusion and Recommendation of the Senate’s Public Accounts and Audit Committee on the General Auditing Commission’s Audit Report of the National Road Fund for Fiscal Year 2018/2019- 2019/2020″.

According the Senate’s conclusion, the Legislature initially approved the amount of United States Dollars twenty-two million three hundred thousand in the FY 2019/2020 budget for Road Fund; and that after submission of a recast budget by the Executive due to low revenue collection as a result of COVID, the Legislature did a recast of the budget under review and reduced the Road Fund for the same period to $12,000,000; and the consultation and approval the Minister of Finance indicated in his radio (Spoon FM/TV) appearance was done with the Legislature during the recast budget process.

 In line with the Senate’s latest endorsement of the Executive’s alleged unconstitutional usage of monies from the National Roads Fund, it was also recommended that, for future audit of the Road Fund, the Road Fund Steering Committee which includes the ministry of finance should review and approve responses to audit queries from Attorney General of the General Auditing Commission; and that any future audit of the Road fund should fully capture final budget appropriation made by the Legislature to the Road Fund Authority.

The recommendations from the Senate also called for the public to be informed, by this report that the seven million reported by the AG (GAC) as owed the Road Fund was re-appropriated by the Legislature during the 2019/2020 recast budget to address critical national issues because of COVID.

The Senate’s report to free Finance Minister Samuel Tweah of any wrongdoing was endorsed by Senators Saah Joseph, J. Emmanuel Nuquay, James Biney, Francis Paye, GbotoKanneh, Prince Johnson, Zoe Emmanuel Pennue, Prince Moye, and Varney Sherman. Others included Simeon Taylor, Milton Teahjay and Augustine Chea.

Senator Abraham Darius Dillon voted against the Report, while Senators Conmany Wesseh, Johnathan Kaipey, and Johnathan Boye Charles Sogbie abstained from voting.

Yekeh Supports Nyonblee

The Senate’s decision to unilaterally exonerate the Executive, especially the Minister of Finance of any wrongdoing with regards to usage of the National Roads Fund comes hot on the heels of an angry retort from Montserrado County District #10 Representative Yekeh Korlubah who said the Executive’s decision was totally wrong.

Representative Korlubah intimated during a popular talk show on Tuesday that he had written the Speaker’s office on May 25, 2022 voicing his concerns about the National Roads Fund.

“It is alleged that the Road Fund is in deficit of about $25million which used for the payment of salaries. Mr. Speaker, distinguished colleagues, as you are aware, the essence of the Road Funds was funds generated for roads rehabilitation and/or roads construction, and before its usage the Liberian legislature must give approval, and as a lawmaker, I cannot remember the Legislature giving approval for the Road Fund to be diverted for the payment of salaries. As we do not wish to draw any hasty conclusion in this matter, it is necessary for us to get information from the relevant entities that can erase any misinformation in this regard.

“In view of the above mentioned, I crave the indulgence of Plenary of the Honorable House of Representatives to invite to its full plenary the Director of the Road Fund, Minister of Finance, Minister of Public Works, to appear and provide detailed information about the Road Fund in relation to the deficit mentioned,” Rep. Korlubah’s letter to Speaker Chambers stated.

Speaking in a peeved tone, Rep. Korlubah said the legislators were elected to advocate on behalf of the Liberian people to have better life.

“We can’t have a few groups of people just sit together, take the Liberian people money without getting instructions from the people’s representatives. At no time I remember the house giving approval. I challenge the Speaker of the House. I raised the issue, and I was asked to write. This is my communication I am making reference to. I can’t just be writing communication like crazy man.

“We want to know who gave them authority to use the Liberian people’s money. It’s not someone’s personal money. It is not to be used to even put gas in car. Before you use it, the both Houses have to sign a Joint Resolution giving authority to use it.  Have we given authority to use it? No, we have not. So, I am saying, let them come and bring the paper. Maybe it is Bhofal Chambers because the finance minister said Speaker Chambers, Thomas Fallah and others gave him the authority, according to the talk show. The leadership of the House does not have the authority to give that kind of authority, only the full plenary can do this. I am talking because I want transparency,” Rep. Korlubah stressed.

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